I’ve heard quite a few people from Mainland China say something like this:


I video call my parents every weekend.

Now, 视频 just means “video”, which means it is a noun. The dictionaries on my phone and the Internet corroborate that this word only has one definition, as mentioned.

However, it is clear that 视频 is used like a verb in this case. Why does this happen? What other nouns can undergo the same change, to become a verb in colloquial speech?

  • parts of speech are kind of vague in Chinese
    – fefe
    Apr 23, 2020 at 6:24
  • @fefe I don’t understand what you are saying
    – Axel Tong
    Apr 23, 2020 at 6:25

3 Answers 3


I'm a Chinese working in a America company. Just very surprise to find this group about learning Chinese.

Regarding this noun and verb question, I would say:

  1. Chinese doesn't have postfix for the changing of word. English we know 'distribute' is a verb, while 'distribution' is a noun. But in Chinese, we all say '分配', can't tell if it's noun or verb. We can only know when put it in a certain sentence/speaking.

  2. We can know a word is noun or verb by its position in the sentence. If a noun is before another noun, that means the first noun is a adj. If a noun is after a subject, possibly it's used as verb. Like, '我和你视频'(I and you take a video call).

  3. We are encouraged to do this way(use noun as verb) in school. '名词活用'(use the noun limberly) is a high level usage. Many poets and writers are good at this method.

But, this method also makes Chinese hard to learn, not only for foreigner, but also for Chinese student in school. We need to understand the meaning of one word according to the'语境'(the situation of the sentence/speaking). Even we know the meaning of one word, but it could be different meaning in different situation.

This way create a lot of ambiguous, but that's the beauty of this language. There're infinite meanings in a certain sentence, you have to use your imagination.

For example, '我喜欢一个人' (1. I love someone. 2. I like stay alone)

  • (for Alex Tong) 我喜欢一个 (stressed, second tone): I love someone, 我喜欢一 (stressed) 人 (natural tone): I like stay alone.
    – xenophōn
    Apr 24, 2020 at 2:47

A noun becomes a verb, this phenomenon exists in many human languages.


For example,

- How can I contact you?
- You can message me. / You can send me a message.

"message me" in Chinese is "发短信给我" or "给我发短信"

"发" is the verb but "短信我" make sense too.

If you speak "你可以短信我", Chinese people can understand very well.

BUT, "短信我" is rarely to be used.

Why? Because 短信 hasn't been using for a very long time, so it's still a noun, whereas 视频 has been using for a very long time, so 视频 is becoming a verb little by little, which is the abbreviation of "发起视频通话" or "发起视频聊天".

When people started to use the mobile phone a lot, Internet became famous at the same time too. At that time, a Chinese company Tencent developed a software, named QQ, which is similar with Skype. QQ was so hot that everyone used it. At that time, Chinese people kept saying "你可以Q我" to express "you can send me a message by QQ". You see, QQ, which is just a name of a product, became a verb too.

Basically, if a verb is too complex or too long but used a lot, people gonna try to simplify it. That's it.

So it's hard to say when nouns can be used as verbs, you need to live with Chinese people, immersing yourself in the Chinese culture, then you are able to answer this question...

The good thing is, any language is a very stable system, no need to worry a lot about these kinds of changes, these changes are extremely slow, you have enough time to learn about them.

  • Great explanation! Also, “视频我” is rarely to be used. “跟某人(打)视频(通话)” is more common. Note contents in brackets are often omitted. I think 发起 in 发起通话 is over formal and sounds like it is a technical guide book.
    – Bósài
    Apr 24, 2020 at 2:49

I agree totally with Yves, this mixing of verb/noun should not surprise you.

Just the word is new: video (adj.) 1935, as visual equivalent of audio, from Latin video "I see," (video is 'I see')

It's a bit chicken and egg: which came first, verb or noun?

Some languages go to great lengths to separate the two.

English has lost most of that: I shop, a shop, I walk, a walk, I need, my need.

How about 拍摄? Verb or noun?

这是对一部老电影的重新拍摄。 This is a remake of an old film.

我们不得不把该场景反复拍摄24次。 We had to reshoot that scene 24 times.

Sooner or later someone will write:


Et voilà, a verb is born!

Dang, gotta change all them darn diction'ries agin! (This is supposed to be my cowboy accent, not a spelling mistake!)

  • We are in the Age of What Works. Oppsss............... Apr 23, 2020 at 14:52

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